Supermarket Deserts?

The phrase that seems to be prevalent in food retail and food politics of late is called supermarket deserts. It is generally used to describe urban environments which have lack of access to major chain supermarkets. It is a bit of a misnomer however, as it gives the impression that there is no access to any food. What it really means, at least in my opinion, is that urban areas have limited to no access to supermarkets with both diversified stock and consistent quality control. As much as I dislike the Safeways and the Walmarts of the world, I do concede that they do strive to meet those two qualifiers, even if, to them, diversified stock means having eighteen varieties of potato chips and twenty-four brands of soda available.

The San Fransisco Chronicle recently addressed their own issues regarding the supermarket flight from their region. When it comes to access to food in retail markets, San Francisco has nothing upon the folks in Detroit. Yes, the environment is changing and large retail shops are closing. But smaller brand name markets are moving into the various neighborhoods.

Compare that against Detroit, which, by all accounts, has no major chain food retailer within the city limits. Most are independently owned. The quality of the food, at least according to the article linked, has suffered.

Is this a class issue? Absolutely, in both San Fran and Detroit. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, which seem to be the markets of choice heading into San Fran, aren’t exactly aiming for the fixed income clientele. While in Detroit, no one is moving in, mostly due to the added costs that come with running a market in lower class neighborhoods (higher crime, higher employment turnover).

At the moment, there seems little in the way of progress in dealing with this issue. As the wealthier move back to the city (after spending the past two or three generations in suburban enclaves), this will come to light more often.